Monday, April 18, 2011

Summer Holiday Homework Advice for Teachers

I've written about summer holiday homework several times in the past, so at this time of year, I always get a few dozen of visitors looking for something related to that. Some of these visitors are probably teachers considering what to assign their students. So here is a little unasked for advice from a parent of children who nearly always HATE summer holiday homework. I'll call it the Green Light Dhaba's Summer Holiday Homework Don'ts and Do's! 

And in case you are wondering why greens should care about the state of education, let me remind you that our world is facing deep and multiple ecological and social problems. If our children do not have very good problem solving skills, how will they solve the problems we have left them with?

The Summer Holiday Homework Don'ts:
Too many students just buy their projects!
1. Don't assign so many projects.  Most kids don't enjoy projects like you think they should. That's partly because they had no choice in coming up with the idea for what to do. Also, most teachers care more about how a project looks than the thought that went into it, which means only those students who make neat looking projects get rewarded. Because of this, many children just buy their projects in the market, or copy them word for word off the internet. Think about the lesson that teachers. If you have to assign a project, consider giving students a choice. Oh yes, and don't forget to reward originality and thought as well as presentation.
2. Don't make math such a chore. A little review of math facts is fine. Excessive practice solving five digit by five digit multiplication or division problems is unnecessary and won't help much anyway. Instead, have students solve problems that require them to use their minds. I'm not, by the way, talking about the kind of word problems that follow a page of subtraction practice where all you have to do is look at the two numbers and subtract the smaller from the bigger. I'm talking about problems that make you think! Here's a site for 8-12 years old; here's a site for students, classes 5-12. Assign two or three problems a week, but give students permission to say, honestly, that they tried, but could not figure out the answer to at least one problem a week. Effort matters, and so does honesty.
3. DON'T have students mug up content. Summer holidays should be about play and thinking. No mugging facts should be allowed. They'll forget it anyway by the time school reopens.

The Summer Holiday Homework DOs
1. DO assign reading, not grammar: Reading literature is a far more effective way to learn the inner workings of a language than grammar exercises. Have students keep a reading log, in which they record all the books they read. Reading matters. Hold a contest to see who can read the most books. Tell the students they need to be prepared to talk about the books briefly, but only assign one formal 'book report'. Tell them to pick their favorite book for that.  Don't be too strict about what students read, but do say you expect they read at least 30 minutes a day in their primary language of instruction and 20-30 minutes a day in their secondary language (e.g., Hindi if they are studying in Delhi). If students do this, it will actually help a great deal. But you have to give them less work elsewhere, or they won't have time. If students complain they don't have books, then suggest they team up with some friends in the neighborhood and share. This is an opportunity for problem solving of the best kind. Be flexible in what you accept as reading material, but do not compromise on the need to read.
2. DO expect thinking: Here's one great assignment. Have students present a photograph or a piece of art and complete a short "see-think-wonder" routine. There are plenty of great photos in the newspaper these days, so access is no issue.
See--describe the art/photo;
Think--tell what this makes you think about.
Wonder--tell what this makes you wonder about; what questions do you have, etc.
It doesn't have to be a lot of work. 
Here's a short one my 11 year old did in response to this photo by Raghu Rai.
I see two men inside a wrestling school.
I think there are two other men in the background.
I wonder if the photographer positioned the wrestlers hand on purpose so that it would be aligned with the gate.

Nothing earth shaking, and he would have done more if it had been assigned by his teacher. But if you look at the photo, the wonder is exactly what we all want to know. This kind of 'thinking routine' can evoke some good thinking and some great discussions.
3. Do assign less. Assigning too much homework leads students to bad habits: copying from the internet; learning mathematical formulas without understanding them, etc. Also, homework might help you mug up for an exam, but I challenge any teacher to find conclusive research that shows homework (aside from independent reading) actually helps young students in the long run. Most research says it doesn't, or that it has a very small affect...but go look for yourself--consider it...homework!   

For more good homework ideas follow our homework helper label.


  1. holidays are for fun not for homework. it is too boring doing homework in summer holidays. because of holidays we cannot go anywhere to enjoy the vacations. if there will be no homework, so, we can enjoy our holidays.


What do you think?